Dune and Transcendentalism Essay

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Mar 12, 2003, 6:55:47 PM3/12/03
We were required to do an essay / research project in my 10th
grade honors English class last year. I chose to do mine on
Dune and Transcendentalism. I thought someone on here might
find it interesting, or perhaps critique it for me. I did
this about a year ago, but have been lurking on this
newsgroup and wanted to see what you people thought of it:


Parallels Between Frank Herbert’s Dune and the Transcendental


Mar 12, 2003, 7:01:03 PM3/12/03
mr0range <ja...@cox.net> wrote in news:Xns933CC145E...@

Whoops.. looks like it was too large to post


Mar 12, 2003, 7:04:41 PM3/12/03
"mr0range" <ja...@cox.net> wrote in message news:Xns933CC145E...@

I'd love to read the essay, but where is it? :-)


Mar 12, 2003, 7:08:08 PM3/12/03
"Tony" <to...@hotmail.com> wrote in

Is there a posting limit on this group? It's a 3-4 page essay. If anyone
wants to read it just post your email and I can send it, if there is no way
to post it. Thanks!


Mar 12, 2003, 7:21:12 PM3/12/03

"mr0range" <ja...@cox.net> wrote in message

There is no posting limit for the group. Perhaps there is a posting limit associated
with your server. Why don't you break the essay into parts and post it that way? I
should note, that it's unusual for a server to impose such stringent posting
limitations. I may be useful not to send the essay as an "attachment," but to paste
it directly into your message. I hope this helps.

Lord Byron

Mar 12, 2003, 7:21:12 PM3/12/03
"mr0range ja...@cox.net" wrote:

>Whoops.. looks like it was too large to post

Ever thought of posting it in several messages?


Mar 12, 2003, 7:23:04 PM3/12/03

> We were required to do an essay / research project in my 10th

Part I


Parallels Between Frank Herbert’s Dune and the Transcendental Writing of
Emerson and Thoreau

Frank Herbert’s Dune, intentionally or not, contains numerous
parallels with the tenets of the American Transcendentalism period. The
rationalities contained within Henry David Thoreau’s Walden and Ralph Waldo
Emerson’s Nature and Self-Reliance are closely intertwined with the subtle
undertones contained within the complex plot of Dune. As with Nature and
Walden, all major concepts and philosophies in Dune stem from nature. The
extremely harsh desert environment of Arrakis, or Dune to the native
population, has directly influenced the culture and religion of the
indigenous Fremen. The hero of Dune, Paul Maud’ Dib, conforms closely to
the model set forth by Self-Reliance. Paul is the model ‘transcendental
self’ as described by Emerson. One of the more important aspects of the
Transcendental philosophy is the power of the human mind. Almost every
aspect of Dune is permeated with proof of the near infinite power of the
human mind. As Manlove noted in his analysis of Dune, Dune can simply be
said to be about mind (104).
Nature is the physical basis for all other elements, both physical and
mental in Dune and the Transcendental writings of Thoreau and Emerson.
Environment and material wealth are contained within the natural domain,
while religion and the individual are shaped by it. As Princess Irulan, the
narrator of Dune, writes:
God created Arrakis to train the faithful.

The harsh desert climate of Arrakis, also known as Dune to the local
population, has forced the native Fremen to live a brutal, austere
lifestyle, filled with oppressive manual labor and lacking of superfluous
material possessions. This is not unlike the Spartan-like lifestyle Thoreau
describes in Walden, in “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For.” (Abbott
n.p.) As Abbott says in his review of Walden, Thoreau chose to live a
simple life of practical clothing and lacking of amenities (n.p.). Thufir
Hawat, Master of Assassin’s for House Atreides, describes the Fremen to
Paul Atreides:
"Like as not I have seen them," he said. "There's little to tell them from
the folk of the graben and sink. They all wear those great flowing robes.
And they stink to heaven in any closed space. It's from those suits they
wear - call them 'stillsuits' - that reclaim the body's own water."

The Fremen culture has adapted itself perfectly to the harsh desert
environment. The pragmatism of the Fremen attire is significant. The Fremen
stillsuit consists of tubes and catchpockets that reclaim sweat and other
human excrements for the purpose of recycling and reuse by the wearer. The
whole system is powered by hydraulic pumps which are activated by walking.
The stillsuit serves as a metaphor for the Fremen culture: simple and
effective, yet lacking of elegance. The stillsuit is also a symbol of the
self-reliance of the Fremen. When wearing a stillsuit, the Fremen are
somewhat isolated from the desert and are much less susceptible to the
outside environment and the harsh climate of Arrakis.
The Fremen accomplish an incredible amount of work. To them, manual
labor is dignifying. The Fremen respect Dune, while at the same time taming
it, and reaping the resources it sows. The Imperial Planetologist Kynes,
John the Baptist to the Christ-messiah figure Paul Muad’ Dib (Sheppard
270), engineers a massive ecological project for the Fremen to carry out,
designed to change the desert environment of Dune to a more hospitable one.
The project is comparable to Thoreau’s bean planting experiment in Walden.
The Fremen wished to tame the environment to suit their needs, just as
Thoreau wished to alter the soil around his home in Walden to grow beans
rather than the native grass.
Manlove describes Dune as a “giant spice farm.” (104) The Fremen,
unlike the rival House Harkonnen, take to a more Thoreau-esque philosophy
regarding spice mining. They mine for necessity, while the gluttonous
Harkonnens mine for profit. Sustenance is the Fremen goal, rather than
material gain. The Fremen sell excess spice supplies when the need arises,
but it is not their primary goal, much like Thoreau, who sold his excess
bean supplies from his farm at Walden as somewhat of an afterthought.
Krutch explains in his criticism of Walden that one of the main topics
the book tackles is what is meant by living a life close to nature, and the
rewards it offers(n.p.) The Fremen live and die by this philosophy,
immersing themselves in their environment. The Fremen are at dynamic
equilibrium with their desert home, shaping it through their planned
ecological project, and letting it shape them into the fiercest and most
dedicated fighters in the universe. Dune allows only those who embrace
nature to survive (O’Reilly 40-41). The Fremen consume the treasures of the
desert, the spice mélange, and use the great sandworms of Arrakis as
transportation, thereby establishing deep connections between themselves
and the desert.
The duality of the giant sandworms of Arrakis is significant. The
sandworm represents the physical, nature and the environment, while at the
same time the worm symbolizes the spiritual, divine power and eternity.
The sandworm illustrates the relationship between man and nature. The
crysknife, the “Death Maker,” is a crystal tooth from the great sandworm of
Arrakis, the “Maker,” used for ritualistic killing by the fierce Fremen
“...the fabled crysknife of Arrakis, the blade that had never been taken
off the planet, and was known only by rumor and wild gossip.”

“Knife, that's "Death Maker" in Chakobsa.”

The spice is the source of power within the Empire: deathly addictive,
geriatric, and most importantly, the source of Paul Maud’Dib’s prescient
vision. The Imperial Planetologist Liet-Kynes makes the connection between
the sandworms and the spice. Without sandworms, there would be no spice.
Paul recalls what the Planetologist mentioned about the spice-worm
What has the worm to do with the spice, mélange? he asked himself. And he
remembered Liet-Kynes betraying a veiled reference to some association
between worm and spice.

Fremen boys must successfully call and mount a sandworm as a rite of
passage. Paul Maud’ Dib undergoes this initiation trial to prove his
leadership to the Fremen:
I am a sandrider, Paul told himself.
He glanced down at the hooks in his left hand, thinking that he had only to
shift those hooks down the curve of a maker's immense side to make the
creature roll and turn, guiding it where he willed. He had seen it done. He
had been helped up the side of a worm for a short ride in training. The
captive worm could be ridden until it lay exhausted and quiescent upon the
desert surface and a new maker must be summoned.

The Fremen of Arrakis use Maker teeth as weapons, consume the spice mélange
produced by the Maker, and use the Maker itself as their main means of long
distance transportation throughout the desert. The symbiosis of man and
worm is definite.


Mar 12, 2003, 7:24:22 PM3/12/03
Ower’s literary criticism of Dune describes the sandworm of Arrakis as a
source of immanent divine energy. (274) The sandworm is distinguished by
the name of “Old Father Eternity” at one point in the novel. The ancient,
almost invincible sandworms often live for centuries, and are called “old
man or grandfather of the desert” by the Fremen. The longevity of the
sandworms, and the “Father Time” image allude to the representation of
eternity and divine spiritual power by the sandworms. Another term given to
the sandworm by the Fremen, “Maker,” alludes to the status of the sandworm
as the Creator, the source of all, some form of divine entity. The
sandworm, or Shai-Hulud, is a physical embodiment of the Oversoul Emerson
describes. While representative of the physical environment, nature itself,
the sandworm is also considered a symbol of divine spiritual power and
eternity. This dichotomy is similar to Emerson’s philosophy on reality.
Gerber writes in his criticism of Emerson’s writing: “Within one great
Unity, he came to believe, there are two levels of reality, the
supernatural and the natural.” (n.p.) The worm is both supernatural, like
Emerson’s Oversoul, as the Maker, and natural, as the source of the spice
mélange and strategic advantages for the Fremen.
Warren writes in his criticism of Emerson’s work that Emerson believed
that a man who exhibited feminine as well as masculine characteristics was
more greatly endowed because he was not reliant on the Woman half for
completion of his being. Warren goes on to say that Emerson’s philosophy
was not intended for women, and that the Transcendental Self could only be
male. Lastly, Warren states that Emerson believed it was a woman’s duty to
settle early on with love and marriage(n.p.). The Bene Gesserit of Dune
conform to this philosophy overtly, while secretly masterminding a eugenics
program designed to produce their own ‘Transcendental Self,’ known in Dune
as the Kwisatz Haderach, which means ‘the shortening of the way.’ While the
Bene Gesserit expect to control this Kwisatz Haderach, ironically their
final product must be a male. The Bene Gesserit plan explicitly follows
Emerson’s belief that the Transcendental Self can only be male. The
Sisterhood wishes to have a male under their control for the purpose of
restoring order to the universe. The Sisterhood is limited in capability by
the lack of a masculine element. The self-reliant Kwisatz Haderach will
have the ability to see all, past, present, and future, without the
compliment of any female. The Reverend Mother Mohiam muses on the necessity
of the Kwisatz Haderach:

“We look down so many avenues of the past . . . but only feminine
avenues." Her voice took on a note of sadness. "Yet, there's a place where
no Truthsayer can see. We are repelled by it, terrorized. It is said a man
will come one day and find in the gift of the drug his inward eye. He will
look where we cannot - into both feminine and masculine pasts."

Warren says that Emerson believed it ‘only reasonable’ that women settle
early on for love and marriage (n.p.). Jessica Atreides, of the Bene
Gesserit Sisterhood, follows this ideal in spite of the loyalty programmed
into her from the Sisterhood. Although she does not marry her love, the
Duke Atreides, she is his bound concubine. She delivers the son he so
desperately desires rather than the daughter required for the Bene Gesserit
breeding scheme. Warren explains that Emerson viewed women only in
relation to man. A woman was there for a man’s comfort and inspiration.
Jessica Atreides fits this description, and puts her Duke above her
Sisterhood’s orders, offering him support during the stressful period in
which he establishes the new regime on Arrakis.
Transcendence begins with solitude and continues with self-reliance.
Paul reaches a literal state of Transcendence when he ingests the Water of
Life, a potent poison derived from a sandworm drowned in water. The Kwisatz
Haderach is the only individual other than a Reverend Mother with the power
to convert the poison to an ingestible drug and avoid death. Paul succeeds
in his task, gaining unimaginable psychic powers in the process. During his
trial, Paul is in solitude in the physical realm, alone in the desert.
After his trial has been completed and the transformation of his mind has
taken place, he is in solitude in the mental realm, in an altered state of
consciousness. Paul is in a paradoxical situation. Paul traps himself
inside a mental prison while changing the Water of Life. He is isolated in
complete solitude, while at the same time is cursed with a view all time
and space, past, present and future. Abbot indicates in his review of
Walden that Thoreau considers nature his religion and universal medicine
and recognizes Walden Pond as his heaven (n.p.). Just as Thoreau lived
alone in his Walden Pond heaven in order to transcend, Paul undergoes his
Water of Life trial in solitude, in his Dune heaven. After beginning
transcendence in solitude, Paul concentrates on self-reliance to strengthen
his power as the Kwisatz Haderach.
Emerson firmly believed that one must be independent of external influences
to live a truly meaningful life. As Warren noted in his criticism of
Emerson’s Self-Reliance, Emerson felt self-reliance meant trusting one’s
own instinct without religious, governmental, or social and economical
biases. Paul Maud’Dib’s extreme self-reliance becomes apparent when his
actions are observed. Paul’s unusual ability to trust his instincts and
intuitions above all doubt are illustrated when Paul dons a Fremen
stillsuit and desert apparel the ‘proper’ Fremen way without prior
Kynes straightened, stepped back with a puzzled expression. "You've worn a
stillsuit before?" he asked.
"This is the first time."
"Then someone adjusted it for you?"
"Your desert boots are fitted slip-fashion at the ankles. Who told you to
do that?"
"It . . . seemed the right way."
"That it most certainly is."

Paul was not externally influenced by religion, as he instituted his own
religion with a fiercely loyal Fremen following. The Fremen embark on a
Jihad in Muad’ Dib’s name exterminating numerous other religions along with
billions of followers. Governmental boundaries were shattered by Paul as
well. With the help of his fanatical Fremen warriors, Paul overthrows the
traditional Imperial government, becoming Emperor himself. In the process
of overthrowing the government, Paul and the Fremen gain total control of
Arrakis, monopolizing the spice trade. This puts Paul in a powerful
position of total religious, political, and economic control. His self-
reliance is near absolute.


Mar 12, 2003, 7:25:03 PM3/12/03

Nature, self-reliance, isolation, individualism - all are connected in some
way to one of the most evident tenets of Transcendentalist writing, the
power of the human mind. Manlove’s opinion of Dune is that ‘the medium of
Dune is mind.’ (102) The main difference between the ‘Transcendentalist’
capabilities of the human mind and the power of the human mind in the Dune
universe is that the Transcendentalist mind is nurtured primarily through
nature and the beauty of the environment, while the ‘Dune’ mind is nurtured
artificially through the use of potent drugs. As Warren mentions in his
review of Walden, Walden is Thoreau’s religion and universal medicine.
Thoreau is inspired by the beauty of his natural surroundings. Gerber
describes in his “Ralph Waldo Emerson” the way in which Emerson stresses
that nature’s primary role in existing is to excite the intuition of the
individual (n.p.). The great minds of Dune, however, are stimulated with
chemicals. The Mentats, humans with the computational ability of a
computer, who assist every major leader in Dune, enhance their already
considerable mental powers with Sapho juice. The Guildsmen of the Spacing
Guild, who navigate huge spaceships through space, rely on the spice
mélange for the prescient abilities it grants in large doses, to ensure a
safe journey ahead of time. The Reverend Mothers of the Bene Gesserit make
use of “spectrum awareness” narcotics to enter a heightened mental state
which gives them the ability to detect the truth or falsehood of
statements. The Fremen Reverend Mothers, called Sayyadina, use The Water of
Life in rituals for passing on their extensive internal memories to younger
generations. The Transcendentalist methods of increased awareness appear to
be much more serene, while the methods of Dune, while more effective, are
much more extreme and often associated with negative consequences such as
chemical or psychological dependence and death.
The limitlessness of the human mind is evident in many different
characters of Dune. The Bene Gesserit women are masters of their own mind
and body, capable of physical feats of extreme discipline. Both the
Sardaukar, the Emperor’s elite guard, and the Fremen, Paul Maud’Dib’s
fighting force, are exceptionally well trained and disciplined fighters.
The Mentats, who act as substitutes for computational machines, have
extremely powerful minds capable of predicting near infinite numbers of
outcomes for any given situation. All varieties of mind are represented in
Dune: the high-level abstract minds of the Guildsmen, the analytical minds
of the Mentats, and the battle-oriented minds of the Sarduakar and Fremen.
“According to [Emerson], the individual has the ability and the
obligation to mold the world to his will, for man, not nature, is
dominant.” (Warren n.p.) The Fremen and Paul Muad’ Dib tame Shai-Hulud, the
giant sandworm. Manlove states in his essay: “... the picture of a sandworm
used till it is exhausted is a striking one of nature’s subservience to man
in this book.” (102) While this image can be taken literally, it also has
metaphorical significance. Paul Maud’ Dib, by riding a sandworm during his
rite of passage into the Fremen culture, has conquered not only the worm
itself, but what is represented by the worm, eternity. Man’s dominance over
nature extends itself to dominance over time. Paul’s control reaches far
beyond the sands of Dune into the sands of time. By that same token, the
Water of Life, the drug that matures Paul’s prescient abilities, is a by-
product of the sandworm lifecycle as described in Ower’s essay on Dune.
(274) Metaphorically, Paul has been matured by the spiritual-natural forces
represented by the sandworm. Warren explains that Self-Reliance contains
the idea that history is determined by ‘a few stout and earnest’
individuals. (n.p.) Paul can indirectly influence history by viewing the
future. He alters the future, therefore altering what will become history.
The paradox of Paul’s prescient vision is comparable, on basic terms, to
the Heisenberg Uncertainty Theory of Quantum mechanics. The energy required
to observe an electron’s location or velocity, when applied to one
variable, changes the opposite, making it impossible to observe both at the
same time. The act of Paul previewing the future with his prescient powers,
like the scientist observing the electron with laboratory equipment,
changes the course of time itself, making it impossible to predict with all
certainty future events without somehow altering them. Paul’s prescience
gives with one hand while taking away with the other.
Because of the paradoxical prescience limitations, Paul must deal with
his foresight accordingly. Paul sees his fate, Jihad, a religious war
started by the fanatical Fremen killing billions and ending in Paul’s
destruction. At any point Paul could have abandoned the path he was
traveling on and rewritten history, saving himself and his loved ones at
the expense of altering fate. However Paul sacrifices himself, so to speak,
for the good of all men. Thoreau states that charity begins at home. The
man who obeys his own genius serves men infinitely more by so doing, than
if he were to turn aside from his path. (Child 351)
Frank Herbert’s writing, like that of the Transcendentalist’s Emerson
and Thoreau, is laced with thought-provoking ideas that are all
interrelated. The connections between ideas are not always overt, but they
are always present. Nature, the base of the pyramid, influences every
other idea in some way. Dune, like Thoreau’s Walden, is an ecosystem with
macro- and microcosms. The creatures of Walden Pond, the Fremen, the
sandworm, the spice, are all part of a complex ecosystem. The desert
environment of Arrakis has forced the Fremen to adapt and embrace the
environment. The sandworms of Arrakis have evolved and thrive on the desert
planet. The sandworms have come to dichotomously represent both nature and
divine power. The Fremen have given Shai-Hulud religious significance.
The spice mélange, a source of long life and limited prescient ability, is
produced by the worms of Arrakis. In this way nature, religion, and mental
capability are all related. The vast mental capability that the spice
awakens in Paul allows him to enjoy absolute self-reliance. He is his own
sovereign man-state watching over all time and space. Analyzing Dune as a
Transcendentalist piece allows one to observe the entire philosophy
contained within at once, with insights perhaps only the heightened
awareness received from a dose of the spice mélange would otherwise yield.


Mar 12, 2003, 7:26:08 PM3/12/03
Works Cited

Abbot, Collamer M., a review of Walden in The Explicator,” Winter, 1998, pp
74-77. DISCovering Authors. Gale Group, 1999. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale
Group. December, 2000. http://www.galenet.com/servlet/SRC. This essay
discusses Thoreau’s desire to be an individual, as well as “an uncommon man
different from conventional beings.” It states that Thoreau considers
nature his religion, and Walden Pond is his sanctuary and his heaven. The
author states that Thoreau’s life is one of Spartan simplicity, with a
simple diet, and free of many common amenities.

Child, Lydia Maria. (1854) “Thoreau’s Walden,” in Thoreau: A Century of
Criticism, Southern Methodist University Press, 1954, pp. 8-11. This essay
is a criticism of Walden. It discusses the idea that all of the
accomplishments of Western civilization, material improvements, commercial
enterprise, and the rapid accumulation of wealth are overrated. It tells of
how Walden is about individualism. Man must obey his own genius, and will
infinitely serve other men by doing so, rather than exhaust his efforts
meeting the expectations of others.

Gerber, John C., “Ralph Waldo Emerson,” Reference Guide to American
Literature, 3rd edition, edited by Jim Kamp, St. James Press, 1994.
DISCovering Authors. Gale Group, 1999. Reproduced in Student Resource
Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale Group. December 2000.
http://www.galenet.com/servlet/SRC. Gerber’s analysis of Emerson’s writing
discusses Emersons belief of the natural and supernatural as two different
levels of reality. The essay also analyzes Emerson’s philosophy that
nature, although serving as commodity, beauty, language, and discipline,
really exists to offer inspiration and mystical experiences to man.

Krutch, Joseph Wood, in his Henry David Thoreau, 1948. Reprint by William
Morrow and Company, Inc., 1974, 298 p. DISCovering Authors. Gale Group,
1999. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale Group. December, 2000.
http://www.galenet.com/servlet/SRC. This excerpt from a criticism on
Thoreau discusses the mean themes of Walden. These themes are mainly what
the book is concerned with, and include the life of quiet desperation which
most men lead, the economic fallacy which is responsible for the situation
many men find themselves in, the rewards that come from living a life close
to nature, and the “higher laws” which man must follow to reach

Manlove, C. N. “Frank Herbert, Dune (1965)” Science Fiction: Ten
Explorations, The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1986, pp. 101-108. The essay
describes the relationship of the mental and physical in Dune. The author
repeatedly states the importance of mind to Dune, and how it relates to
several of the more important characters and factions.

O’Reilly, Timothy. Frank Herbert. Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., Inc.,
1981. This novel studies all of Herbert’s work, concentrating on the
themes and ideas presented in Dune. It discusses the central ideas of Dune,
the traditional hero, religion, and human transcendence. The relationship
between nature and religion is discussed, as religion is often derived from
nature. Herbert’s mindset of embracing nature as a means of survival is
also mentioned.

Ower, John. Criticism of Dune. Contemporary Literary Criticism, 12: 273-
275. This essay describes the Arrakeen sandworm as a source of divine
energy. The author describes the relationship of the spice, the worm, and
Paul’s prophetic powers. The development of Paul’s mental-psychic powers is
also discussed in detail.

Sheppard, R. Z. (1971) Criticism of Dune. Contemporary Literary Criticism,
12: 270-72. This essay describes Dune as a successful science fiction
novel with ideas relevant to public concerns. It states that the novel
contains ideas relating to the power of mysticism. The essay also mentions
the research Herbert put into Dune, which had extensive information on
desert ecology, history, and desert cultures. The extensive growth and
planting project planned for the planet Dune is not unlike Thoreau’s bean
planting project, on a larger scale.

Warren, Joyce W., “Transcendentalism and the Self: Ralph Waldo Emerson,” in
The American Narcissus: Individualism and Women in Nineteenth-Century
American Fiction, Rutgers University Press, 1984, pp. 23-53. DISCovering
Authors. Gale Group, 1999. Reproduced in Student Resource Center.
Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale Group. December, 2000.
http://www.galenet.com/servlet/SRC/. This essay discusses the topic of
gender roles in Emerson’s writing. His emphasis of self-reliance is
mentioned. Emerson’s belief that men were destined for transcendence while
women were designed to support men in this role is discussed.

Michael O'Neill

Mar 13, 2003, 6:29:12 PM3/13/03

Thanks for the split posts and to Lord Byron for suggesting that course
of action to you. A good read.



Mar 13, 2003, 6:26:17 PM3/13/03
I liked the part about the Fremen being isolated from the world in their stillsuits:
a thought provoking idea!

> When wearing a stillsuit, the Fremen are
> somewhat isolated from the desert and are much less susceptible to the
> outside environment and the harsh climate of Arrakis.

I also though the inclusion of references to other Dune essays was refreshing.


Mar 18, 2003, 7:05:37 PM3/18/03

"mr0range" <ja...@cox.net> wrote in message

We've heard a lot about Nietzsche and "Dune," so it's nice to hear about an
alternative interpretive approach involving a modern philosophy. :-)

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